More about this ad campaign ...
"A national nonprofit public education organization named Keep America Beautiful, Inc. (KAB) was formed in 1953 with the mission of “engaging individuals to take greater responsibility for improving their local community environments.” KAB’s first PSA focused on litter prevention. It partnered with the Ad Council in 1960 to produce a campaign focused on the harmful environmental effects of litter and other forms of pollution.
Ten years into the KAB-Ad Council partnership, in 1971, an Italian actor playing the part of a Native American (who became known as “The Crying Indian”) or “Iron Eyes Cody” appeared in an anti-litter commercial. As he looks over a polluted landscape and sheds a tear, a voice-over says: “People start pollution. People can stop it.” This powerful commercial won many awards, including being named one of the top 100 advertising campaigns of the 20th century by Advertising Age. Its success inspired other environmental messages from other groups as well.
However, this campaign proved to be quite controversial. Shortly after its debut, various journalists wrote articles pointing out aspects that might not be immediately apparent to viewers. They noted that the tagline “People start pollution; people can stop it” focuses the responsibility for environmental pollution solely on individuals.
John McDonough, writing in Advertising Age, pointed out that the Ad Council’s advisory panel for the campaign included some of the country’s biggest alleged polluters—Allied Chemicals, Bethlehem Steel, American Can, and US Steel—and that the original campaign was funded by American Can. McDonough wrote, “The company may have loved the pre-Columbian landscape as much as the next guy—and delighted in having Iron Eyes letting people know it. But it consistently opposed state legislation designed to curb litter through container refund-deposit. They felt that the KAB-Ad Council campaign was actually a public relations effort on the part of the container industry to cover its opposition to refund and deposit programs.
This campaign and the controversy surrounding it suggest that public service campaigns, like the commercial advertising campaigns on which they are modeled, are often meant to serve the vested interests of their sponsors."